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Irving bullying program
Correspondent Tracy Smith visits with an Irving Middle School student on Oct. 21, 2010, in the media center as the CBS crew readies for an interview for an upcoming CBS News Sunday Morning story on the Irving bullying program. (ROBERT BECKER / Lincoln Journal Star) ROBERT BECKER

At Irving Middle School, kids who bully other kids are given a shot at changing their behavior.

Now some of those same kids are getting a shot at being on national television.

A CBS "Sunday Morning" news crew spent three days in Lincoln this week, most of it at Irving shooting interviews and footage for a story on what the school -- and an associate professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln -- did to reduce bullying behavior.

For several years, Irving students facing in- or out-of-school suspension for bullying have been given the option of participating in the program, which focuses on getting to the bottom of their behavior and what they can do to change it.

Irving Principal Hugh McDermott said he's always been interested in discipline and liked the approach of Susan Swearer, an associate professor of educational psychology at UNL and expert on bullying.

She developed the program, which started at Irving in 2005.

A CBS producer who read a book Swearer wrote on bullies saw a blurb McDermott wrote about the book -- and wanted to do a story.

So this week, students at Irving got used to sound booms and cameras and reporters amongst them.

Some students who'd been through the anti-bullying program were interviewed, as were their parents.

The program will air early next month.

And then a bigger piece of the world may know about the approach taken at Irving and some other Lincoln public schools.

For two years, the program was funded by a Woods Foundation grant and also used at Prescott Elementary and Park Middle schools.

The grant has ended, but McDermott and Swearer have gone on without it.

Swearer uses graduate students in her therapy clinic to work with the students, under her direction.

"It really hones in on looking at having the students kind of examine themselves and also providing them with some strategies that, if they use them or at least think about them in the next situation, might make a big difference," McDermott said.

Students identified must agree to participate -- as must their parents.

During a three-hour session, Swearer's graduate students talk with the middle school kids about what might be behind their behavior: depression or anxiety, a poor sense of self, or not understanding or minimizing their behavior.

Some of them are victims of bullying themselves, Swearer said.

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Bullying behavior doesn't fit into a nice box: Its causes are complicated, Swearer said.

"That's another reason we think it's helpful," she said. "We're not casting blame. We're just trying to figure this out."

The second part of the program involves helping the student understand the causes and consequences of bullying. Students do worksheets based on the type of bullying they have done.

They also watch a movie on the subject, part of which was filmed in 2007 at Irving by an Australian producer.

The therapist then writes a report and the parents, therapist, school counselor and student meet to discuss it.

They talk about strategies students can use to avoid such behavior and they offer referrals, which may be for therapy or identifying someone at school the student can talk to.

"If kids don't sit down and talk to us about all the complexities, we don't understand," Swearer said. "We just see the final fight. The final fight is never where it started."

McDermott said he's seen mixed results: Some students have continued the behavior, others haven't. And he figures some effects won't be seen until later.

"I like some of the things I'm seeing," he said. "As we continue to work with students, we have strategies to call upon to work with."

Reach Margaret Reist at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

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